Andy Tracy is 37. He’s been married for 10 years. He has two kids. And he’s playing minor-league baseball in Reno.
The average age of a minor leaguer in Triple A is 27. As you move down the levels, the number drops—24 in Double A, 22 in Single A, and 20 in rookie ball.
The minors, for most, are a place to learn the ins and outs, to hone your skills before the big show. It’s a place to rehab an injury. It’s where you go to get your swing back or work on your pitching motion.
Whatever it is, it’s supposed to be a rest stop. It’s fleeting, temporary. At least, that’s what you want it to be.
For some, though, the minors are home. The majors are the rest stop—a spotless, shiny, really expensive rest stop with Kobe beef instead of Roy Rogers. Sure, some get each Spring Training—in the American tropic or the Southwest. Pitchers and catchers. Spirits bright, possibilities supposedly endless. But then, every year, when rosters are finalized before Opening Day, it’s back to Reno or Tacoma or Scranton.
It’s back to being a secondary star in a secondary city.
During the season, maybe there’s an injury here or a suspension there. You get your cup of tea, but it’s not much more. You bounce around from franchise to franchise, living a life of impermanence, hanging on to a dream or to a skill, waiting for a break, waiting for your shot. It never comes. Or when it does, it doesn’t last.
But maybe it’s not so bad.
Andy Tracy plays first base for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s 37 and turns 38 in December. According to Minor League Baseball (MiLB), he’s the oldest American position player in the entire minor league system.
In 16 seasons, he’s played for the Crocs, the Hammerheads, and the Zephyrs. Hell, he’s even been an IronPig. All in all, he’s played for 11 minor league teams and one in Japan. He’s tallied 5,298 minor-league at-bats, playing in 1,511 minor-league games.
In the same time, he’s also played for three major league teams: the Expos, Rockies, and Phillies. He’s had 227 major league at-bats. He’s played 149 games in the big leagues. More than half of them came in 2000, when he played 83 games with the Expos. He hasn’t played more than 15 games since 2001.
So, um, what the hell is this guy doing?
He’s 37, and he’s playing baseball in Reno. His family lives in Columbus. He has a wife of ten years, a four-year-old boy, and a two-year-old girl. He’s riding on coach buses each week, getting daily meal stipends in cities like Fresno and Sacramento. Why keep going?
Well, he’s probably making a decent living, but it’s more than that.
“I still believe I can help a big league team. That’s why I’m still playing,” Tracy told me. “The day I believe that I can’t, I would probably walk away from it. I think I can still help a big league team off the bench.”
Tracy very well might be able to. He’s started off the season well. He’s hitting .389 through six games—a very small sample size. He’s been a minor league All-Star the past three seasons. But he still hasn’t played a major-league game since 2009.
You see, this story was supposed to be about the oldest guys in the minors. Raul Chavez, Brett Tomko, and Marc Kroon are all 38—older than Tracy—but none of them wanted to talk to me. And can you blame them?
Hi, would you like to talk about how you almost made it? What about how you failed? Maybe a few questions about how you were never good enough? Or possibly something about how you couldn’t let go?
But Tracy spoke to me, and I think that says something about him. It says something about his career and, really, about how he’s come to terms with it and how it’s not a failure. You talk to Tracy and you get the feeling that this guy was meant to be the oldest player in the minor leagues.
And I mean that in that best way possible.
Tracy grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio, as the youngest of five brothers. He fell in love with baseball at a young age, after following around his older brothers. He played baseball and football at Bowling Green State University, but still dreamed of one day making it to the big leagues. That dream hardened into reality in 1996 when the Montreal Expos drafted Tracy in the 16th round.
Maybe he never developed into a full-time major leaguer. Maybe he never made an All-Star game. Maybe he never even got a fair shot. But despite all that, he still loves the game, all these years later.
“I’ve played for 16 years,” Tracy says. “I think it’s kind of an honor that I played this long and have been able to stick it out this long. I’m doing something I love, and I love being in the game.”
Now, Tracy wishes he wasn’t the oldest guy in the minors, but he doesn’t reject it, either. It would be easy to give the next hotshot on a fast track to the majors the cold shoulder. Tracy’s worked his ass off for 16 years for less than 200 games. Some of these guys get to the big leagues just a few months out of college.
Tracy, though, wants to be that veteran leader that every manager says every clubhouse needs.
“Obviously, I wish I had more time in the big leagues, but the more people I can help—if they want to pick my mind, learn things—it’s awesome because it means they’re gonna be more open to things in the future.”
Tracy’s wife has been with him for most of his minor-league journey, and she’s put no pressure on him to move on. Neither have friends or any other family, he says.
It’s not that he’s hanging on to something that’s not there. He’s honest about his own abilities. In baseball, numbers can quantify almost anything. At the end of each season, Tracy looks at those numbers and decides if they’re good enough … regardless of the decisions the front offices make. If he’s succeeding in his eyes, then he comes back.
“If I wasn’t still using my tools and didn’t have good numbers,” Tracy says, “I would probably be out of the game right now. That’s one reason I came back and played this year. I had a chance to get out of the game, but I still wanted to play, maybe, one more year. If I don’t put up the numbers, then I’ll probably be out of the game.”
Even at 37, when baseball’s gone, there’s still more. Tracy hopes to stay involved in the game once his playing days are done. The real world scares him, but he’s not there yet. He’s still got to play. That’s all he knows. That’s all he’s ever done.
“This year could be my last. That wouldn’t bother me. I’ve put it all on the line. I’ve played hard for a long time. That’s all you can do.”
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—Photo Brent Moore/Flickr; Express-Times/Bruce Winter